Friday, March 4, 2011

Reflections Revisited

I've been slacking on writing a post for a while, mostly because I've got thoughts from about four different projects roiling around in my head, all tangled up in each other. It's making it hard to make progress on any of them. So I'm going to cheat a little, and recycle another post from when I was in Bahrain. It's interesting to me how my perspective has changed, even over the course of the last year and a half. I'll explain more after the recycled post.

I’m coming to the end of my tour in [what is marketed as the Coast Guard's] most challenging and arduous mission. Let’s just say it hasn't lived up to the hype. The things that I thought were going to be challenging, like tactical decisions, bullets flying down-range, tensely intimate engagements with a particularly volatile and slightly ludicrous enemy, turned out to be non-existent. My failing was in realizing that far too early, and not training or preparing for those things that, while infinitesimally possible, would have been catastrophic because of my lack of fore-thought and preparation.

I never really did buy into this mission, even when I first made the decision to ask for it; never really thought W’s dirty little oil war turned personal vendetta was a good fight. I selfishly came over to challenge myself. What I didn’t realize in not buying in was that I put my self, my guys, my unit and my fellow teams at risk because I wasn’t thinking things through all the way. I did my job as assigned and fairly well, but I didn’t face up to the bigger threat picture and become the professional that I gave lip-service to being. My command philosophy as stated, is something like, “any job doing is worth doing to the best of your ability.” I say the words well, but didn’t do such a great job putting it into practice. I’ve been lazy and complacent.

I keep looking for something that will challenge me, something that will inspire passion in me, something that will make me work hard, stay up late and go to bed exhausted each day, pleased with what I’ve accomplished, and chomping at the bit to get up the next day to do it all over again. I haven’t found it yet. I worry that I never will.

But I had the blinding realization, or at least initial spark of recognition, that maybe the challenge is within myself…and this is definitely a thought process in progress, so bear with me. Does the mission really matter? Or is it that I need to buy in more to my own philosophy, and give more of my ability to whatever I’m doing? I think buying into the mission would give me the motivation to get more involved in the operation, to spend the extra time and energy to become thoroughly familiar with the intricacies and details as well as the big-picture, long-term, organizational-level stuff that actually makes a player into a leader.

I like my job now. I enjoy it, mostly because I’m good at it. I have career goals that I’d like to accomplish. But I don’t love it. I count the time until I can be done with it and move onto something I’d rather do. I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m not going to be very good at what I want to do…farming is a fairly creative venture; my nature is more regimented.

So one of my take-away lessons from this assignment is to be passionate about what I do. But how do I do that if I don’t believe in it?

I thought of this post when I was watching ADM Papp's State of the Coast Guard address last month. His remarks on qualification versus proficiency struck me as elementally important. And I hung my head a little, acknowledging that I have plenty of room to improve in this area. It's so easy to get wrapped up in the crisis of the moment and dismiss the necessity of continued familiarity, dare I say intimacy, with the details of operational guidance and requirements. That is my goal for my next job, whatever it may know the fundamentals, the background, the foundation of what I'm doing. If it's the budget shop, know the statutory basis for our funding; if it's strategic planning, know the overarching, big-picture guidance. When it's XO, know the PERSMAN. If it's CO, know the CG Regs. And whatever I'm doing next time I'm underway, know the COLREGS, shiphandling theory (beyond "drive the stern of the ship"), and the casualty control and emergency ops manuals to the point that they are much more internalized than they are now. That's my goal for myself.

It makes me laugh a little, that part, "But I don't love it." I'm sure that some of it is that you never know what you've got 'til it's gone. In rereading this old post, I realized what I appreciate so much about my time on KISKA. I found more to believe in than just my own philosophy. In some ways, KISKA helped me to see the bigger picture, the grander challenge. The power of the future, if you will. 

For example, on MAUI, all of my crew came from other units; there was no one there straight from boot camp. Within a month of taking over KISKA, I had three guys newly report directly from boot camp slogging through the rigors of drydock. One of them commented on my last post, and I sent him an email back, chiding him lightly for still calling me "Captain." He responded, " were my first captain so I will prolly always call you captain unless we're around other people who don't know that story." That is the power of the future.

The discussions that XO and MKC (soon to be CWO--super, major CONGRATS, Greg!!) and I had about Big Coast Guard Issues inspired me to persevere through some pretty boring classes (microeconomics and statistics, blech) so I could get to the more interesting classes I'm taking now. And I'm learning *a ton* that I hope to use to make life better for my shipmates. That's the power of the future.

And the classes I'm taking now are pushing me, stretching my capabilities, giving me the opportunity to think about things that I know are important to the future of the Coast Guard. I'm not even close to pretending that I have any of the answers, but I'm glad to know that I can at least frame the questions. Knowing the question is the easiest place to start for figuring out an answer. And the coolest part of what I've seen in the Coast Guard is our organizational willingness to self-examine in pursuit of a better way of doing things. Our institutionally heuristic nature (Frank--I win...though there is something oxymoronic about an "institutionally heuristic" anything). That is definitely the power of the future.

So, the realization from this post for me...I do love it. The challenges, the people, the demanding tasking, the opportunities, the doors opened, the sights seen, the sea stories told and retold, and the possibilities for a next generation.

PS - The more I think about this power of the future concept, the more I realize that *is* the mission of the Coast Guard, in aggregate. I'll write more on this later, but providing the possibility of the best future is what the Coast Guard is all about...SAR, LE, homeland security, prevention...all of it.


Daren Lewis said...

Simply... wow!

Liomoana said...

I second that!